More people live and work in cities than ever before in the history of humanity, as a result the transportation pressures on these urban centres as equally increased. In North America, the last century focused on making cities for cars instead of for people and as more population density increases in cities the urban design can’t keep pace. Making cities for cars has led to a really problematic situation. We know the future of cities is in human-scale design instead of car-scale design and the transition has been hard. In the USA cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% and pedestrian deaths by 45% since 2010.
The solution for safer cities exists and places are already implementing better design practices. You can make an impact today by getting rid of your car or just driving less.
Strategies vary from one city to another. Boston, for example, has reduced the city speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 mph. Washington, D.C. is improving 36 intersections that pose threats to pedestrians and enacting more bicycle-friendly policies. These cities still have far to go, but they are moving in the right direction.
There are many more options. Manufacturers can make vehicles less threatening to pedestrians and bicyclists by reducing the height of front bumpers. And cities can make streets safer with a combination of speed limit reductions, traffic calming measures, “road diets” for neighborhoods that limit traffic speed and volume, and better education for all road users.
Tishaura Jones, the first female treasurer of St. Louis, set out to improve her city through good design. Through her own struggles dealing with the city’s bureaucracy she identified many problems with how information is presented, she noted she wasn’t the only one running into bad design. Jones decided to do something about it; the policies were there but nobody knew how to understand them since the information was presented in a Byzantine way. She has led St. Louis to alter how information gets communicated to its citizens.
As treasurer of St. Louis, she used two key design techniques to improve policy delivery and outcomes. First, she reached out to other cities that had prototyped and tested new, human-centered policies. Building on what other cities had learned allowed St. Louis to springboard forward instead of getting stuck reinventing wheels. Second, she brought together policy and processes, applying people-centered design to the rules that governed services and the delivery of them. By building connective tissue between policy, process, and people, Jones was able to built new trust in old institutions to deliver real change impacting residents’ lives.
Justin King, policy director of the family-centered social policy program at New America, where I did research, has spent his career working on issues at the intersection of children’s lives and government policies. “Tishaura and Jose before her are reinventing what’s possible inside government,” he says. “People see the state and municipal government, in a lot of cases, as a predator on them and their communities . . . [Their work] is against the tide. It is really positive and really innovative and really worth talking about.”
Let’s be honest, people are bad at conveying their ideas on what streets can look like. Thankfully there’s an open source project designed to help people remix their local streets and share it with others. The web based design tool Streetmix provides a simple drag and drop interface to rethink your local roads, you don’t need an urban planning degree to figure out what should go where. Give it a try, generate some images, and go talk to your community about making your neighbourhood more people-friendly from the street up.
Why does Streetmix exist?
When city planners seek input from community meetings from the public on streetscape improvements, one common engagement activity is to create paper cut-outs depicting different street components (like bike lanes, sidewalks, trees, and so on) and allow attendees to reassemble them into their desired streetscape. Planners and city officials can then take this feedback to determine a course of action for future plans. By creating an web-based version of this activity, planners can reach a wider audience than they could at meetings alone, and allow community members to share and remix each other’s creations.
The goal is to promote two-way communication between planners and the public, as well. Streetmix intends to communicate not just feedback to planners but also information and consequences of actions to the users that are creating streets. Kind of like SimCity did with its in-game advisors!
In the 1990s former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani popularized the broken window theory which is a zero tolerance approach to getting rid of crime. At first it proved successful and the approach spread, only later was it revealed that other factors were at work. Today, the solution to fighting crime and bringing life back to communities isn’t by cracking down on the people living there – it’s to empower them. In order to do this it means changing the streetscape from car-focused to people focused and giving people agency around what the spaces are redesigned for.
We surveyed residents there in 2014—before the intervention began—as well as in 2016 and 2017. We are now preparing the results of the Flint study for publication in an academic journal, but here’s a snapshot of our findings.
the coalition’s latest report, assaults decreased 54 percent, robberies 83 percent and burglaries 76 percent between 2013 and 2018.
The answer for how their famous bullet trains move so quickly is thanks in part to biomimicry, the study of using animals as a source for design. The front of the bullet train was inspired by the beak of a kingfisher which allows for more efficient airflow and thus less of an environmental impact. This is merely one example of the interesting world of using the evolution of animals to design the world around us.
Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150–200 miles per hour.
It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of “tunnel boom,” where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds.
Nakatsu’s case is a fascinating example of biomimicry, the design movement pioneered by biologist and writer Janine Benyus. She’s a co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, a non-profit encouraging creators to discover how big challenges in design, engineering, and sustainability have often already been solved through 3.8 billion years of evolution on earth. We just have to go out and find them.